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Article Summary

Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin is a highly addictive drug. A person using the drug pays a serious price when going through heroin withdrawal. The price often is paid much quicker than most people expect.

How Quickly?

Mention withdrawal and most people think of what a person goes through when they quit taking a substance. With heroin, the user starts suffering withdrawal symptoms the same day they use the drug. For example, a person using the drug at noon can start to feel cravings by the early evening. Yes, in as quick as six hours. The user then takes more of the drug to overcome the cravings, which leads to an ongoing negative drug taking loop devastating the user and the people in the user's life.


Heroin impacts the brain in both a physiological and psychological manner. When the drug is taken, it circulates to the brain through the blood system. It is converted to morphine in the brain where it binds to opioid receptors. This creates an euphoric physical sensation, but also a physical need for additional amounts of the drug to maintain the stimulation of the opioid receptors. Combined, the user experiences these sensations as cravings for the drug, cravings that can lead a person to self destructive behavior.

It would be a mistake to suggest the heroin cravings are solely devoted to returning to a state of euphoria. Part of the desire is based in the need to stop the other withdrawal symptoms that arise when drug levels in the body are not maintained. Let's take a look at a number of those symptoms.


The body has a visceral, physical reaction to heroin withdrawal. One of the well known responses is a sensation of nausea followed by frequent vomiting. Throwing up constantly is one of the worst sensations a person can go through, particularly once there is nothing left in the stomach and dry heaves commence.

Physical Pain

The brain processes heroin in a manner that produces euphoria in a short burst. After this burst ends, the body tends to react by overemphasizing the opposite sensations - pain. These sensations can be in the form of body aches such as when a person has a serious flu or the exacerbation of ongoing physical problems such as back pain. We automatically try to get away from pain as human beings. For users, this natural reaction leads them to continue to abuse the drug.

Mood Issues

If heroin works by manipulating receptors in the brain, it should be no surprise whatsoever that heroin withdrawal impacts the emotional state of an user. With heroin withdrawal, the typical mental symptoms are irritability and lashing out at others. The body is under significant stress and an addict looks to release the stress in any way possible. Such emotional instability results in what is effectively emotional abuse of the loved ones in the user's life.


These conditions of cravings, nausea, physical pain and mood changes translate to a very difficult process when it comes to heroin withdrawal. There is no sugar coating this fact. It is also why so many users find it difficult to quit on their own despite the best intentions. Physical and psychological discomfort is something we all shy away from regardless of whether we are taking narcotics or not. Quitting heroin cold turkey is essentially an effort to rewire one's mind, an incredibly difficult task to accomplish without help.

Supervised Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal can be very difficult, but much of the immediate physical and mental difficulty can be bypassed with a medically supervised approach. Detoxification is the first step. Pharmaceuticals such as Clonidine and Buprenorphine can be used to offset the immediate withdrawal symptoms. Clonidine, in particular, can help get you through the 12 to 15 days necessary for the brain and body to flush out the chemical residue from taking heroin.

The good news is a person who is committed to coming clean can get past their heroin use and return to a happy and productive life. Following the initial detoxification period, the focus of treatments turns more towards the psychological aspects of heroin addiction. Support groups and therapy are used to assist the former user with the process of coping with the ups and downs of daily life. In certain situations, medications may also be prescribed to further assist a person in this regard.

A Price Worth Paying

Heroin withdrawal is not a pleasant experience, but any person can get through it with a supervised withdrawal. The discomfort associated with even a supervised withdrawal is a price well worth paying. Heroin may deliver short bursts of euphoria when taken, but those short bursts are followed by long periods of reality where the users conduct has an immense negative impact on one's life, health, family and friends.

If you or a person you know is abusing heroin, there is no mistaking the fact things are going to end up very badly if the abuse continues. Going through heroin withdrawal is a minor inconvenience compared to the effects of a life spiraling forever downward.

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